Vaccinating pregnant dogs is always discouraged because injecting a weak disease into a pregnant dog presents big risks for the puppies in utero. Therefore, it is not recommended to give shots to a pregnant dog. In some very rare cases where the potential benefits outweigh the risks, such as in shelters, then vaccines should be administered.
In planned breedings organized by two ethical dog breeders, both dogs should be vaccinated, healthy, and cleared of inherited or structural known medical conditions. Realistically, the question of whether or not you can vaccinate a pregnant dog only occurs with accidental breedings. This article answers these questions factually, without opinion-based judgment.
How Do Vaccines Work?
We all know that vaccines are supposed to protect us and our pets from diseases and viruses, but few people know how they actually work! Truth be told, canine vaccines and human ones typically work the same way. Your dog visits the vet where he will be injected with a weak, modified strain of a virus or disease; the dose is not enough to cause him to become seriously ill. The strain will trigger an immune response in your dog, meaning he will produce antibodies that can fight against the disease-causing bacteria. Consequently, when your pup is later exposed to these diseases or viruses, he will already be equipped with the necessary antibodies needed to destroy the bacteria and prevent him from getting extremely ill.
Puppies are generally vaccinated twice at 8 weeks for distemper, parainfluenza and measles, at 10-12 weeks for hepatitis, adenovirus, parainfluenza and parvovirus and at 12-24 weeks for rabies. They will not receive full protection from the first set of mentioned diseases until two weeks after their 10-12 week jabs. Yearly boosters are recommended to top up their immunity throughout their adult life, although there is much controversy over whether boosters are entirely necessary. Puppies must go outside safely until the vaccines fully kicked in.
Can You Give Shots to Pregnant Dogs?
As a rule, you should never vaccinate your pregnant dog with a “live” or “active” vaccine as these are not considered safe at any stage of pregnancy. Although the strain of disease or virus used in a live vaccine is weak, it still has the potential to cause underlying complications in-utero and may trigger a spontaneous abortion. There may be exceptional circumstances where the risk of your dam contracting a disease or virus and passing it onto the litter is much greater and more dangerous than a vaccine itself – your vet is best placed to advise you on this if required.
Experts suggest that you can still vaccinate your pregnant dog with “killed” or “inactive” vaccines; the bacteria in these have been killed using heat or chemicals and therefore does not trigger such a strong immune response. However, this is still not recommended as puppies in-utero are extremely fragile.
Giving a vaccine to a pregnant dog triggers an antibody surge which is transferred to her puppies. Subsequently, the puppies will receive a greater level of immunity than they otherwise would. Most would assume this to be a good thing. However, usually, when a pup is born, it has its mother’s immunity for certain diseases up until 8 weeks old, after which the immunity wears off (which is why puppies receive their first set of vaccines at this point). Therefore, puppies who were in-utero when their mother was vaccinated still have stronger immunity than usual by the time their 8-week vaccines roll around, negating the effectiveness of the vaccines thereafter (and compromising their immune system).
Unfortunately, the decision of whether to vaccinate your dog whilst pregnant can be a tough one. If you decide not to vaccinate your dam, you should ensure that her immediate environment is as clean as possible, with no reports of virus or disease outbreaks that may affect her or her litter. She will be experiencing some degree of nutrient-deficiency as a large amount of her energy and resources will be involved in growing her whelps.
The stress that pregnancy puts on her body will also compromise her ability to fight naturally-occurring bacteria present in the environment (such as parvovirus), thus she is at higher risk of contracting an infection. You should also ensure that the pup(s) of an unvaccinated dam stay indoors and do not meet other dogs until they have had their first and second sets of primary vaccinations. Their risk of infection will also be high, as they will not have inherited their mother’s immunity for certain diseases and viruses.
If you do decide to vaccinate your dam, ensure you discuss the risks at length with your vet and ensure that the right vaccine is administered under the correct conditions. If you are still hesitating, it may be worth seeking a second opinion to help you reach a level of comfort within your decision.
Is It Safe to Vaccinate a Nursing Dog?
It is best practice to avoid vaccinating a nursing dog unless they are in a particularly high-risk environment, for example, they arrive at a shelter and their previous vaccination history is unknown. Even then, the shelter dog would be given the primary vaccinations they missed as a pup, giving them some basic immunity – they would not be given boosters. The disease can spread like wildfire in shelters or kennels as there is a large volume of dogs in one place, so the risk of the mother contracting a serious illness would typically be higher than usual.
In any other situation, its advisable to wait until the puppies have been weaned off the dam. If she has just given birth, her body will be working overtime to provide for her new family, so she will need all her strength and energy for this. Injecting her with a live vaccine has the potential to make her feel under the weather for a few days whilst her body is producing the appropriate antibodies. Putting her body under strain like this could do her more harm than good and may affect her ability to nurse her pup(s) who will suffer as a result.
Vaccines will also provide no benefits whatsoever to the puppies of a lactating dam. In their first 12-24 hours of life, whelps receive antibodies from their mother through the colostrum and milk, but after that, they are on their own! It would take at least a week for the mother to produce a complete immune response to the vaccine and by this time the puppies will no longer be able to absorb them from her milk.
At best, the vaccination will provide some immunity for the mother but will do nothing for her offspring. If you’re even remotely thinking about breeding your female dog, ensure her vaccinations are up to date to avoid having to make such a loaded decision in the first place. There is also a great deal of controversy over the frequency or vaccines and whether yearly boosters provide additional immunity or just wreak havoc with a canine’s immune system, causing adverse effects on the body. Recent research has even found a link between over-vaccinating and cancer. It is worth speaking to your vet, as well as doing your own research. Always make an informed decision – knowledge is key!
When Should I Vaccinate a Breeding Dog?
Both studs and dams should be up to date with their vaccinates before they are bred. If the breeding is done via stud service, usually stud and dam owners will not allow their dogs to participate in the service until a vet has verified that the dog is fully vaccinated and in good health. This way, they cannot pass certain diseases or viruses to each other or the litter.
It is best not to vaccinate your dog too close to coitus as vaccines can cause your dog to feel slightly unwell and lethargic for a few days. Coitus is tiring and both dogs will need as much energy as possible. Research also suggests that vaccinating too close to pregnancy can prevent the fetuses from inheriting some of the dam’s own natural immunity that she gets from regular exposure to the environment, which limits their immunity.
If somehow your unvaccinated female dog slips under the radar and becomes pregnant, seek advice from a vet. If you are advised to go ahead with a vaccine, consider the stage at which it is administered. The fourth week of pregnancy is when the pup(s) are most prone to damage and developmental defects, so it may be best to delay until later in the pregnancy. If you do go ahead with the vaccine, be sure to make sure that whoever is caring for the puppies is aware that the mother was vaccinated with puppies in-utero. Their eighth-week vaccines may have to be pushed back to avoid their immunity being compromised.
If your female dog had all her primary vaccinations and has had regular boosters up until a year or two before she conceived, then discuss this with your vet. Her immunity may still be strong enough to see her and her litter through the pregnancy and the initial period after birth. In this case, you can wait until after the litter of puppies has been delivered and weaned before giving her a booster.
It is important to also consider the financial side of vaccination decisions. Many dog insurance companies will not pay out for certain treatment for your canine (pregnant or not) if she has not had her primary vaccinations and boosters up to date. Although the risk if small, if you decide to go against professional advice, you should consider what you will do in the event you have a very sick dog and no way to pay for her veterinary care. Check the fine print on your pet insurance contract and ensure that you have a way to look after your dog, whatever the outcome.